We all know that catching a summer sunset in Menemsha is a truly special event. To watch it go down while enjoying a thoughtfully crafted, locally sourced dinner on a tranquil brick patio, surrounded by grazing cows and lush Chilmark landscape, is even more memorable. That’s the type of experience you’ll get at the Beach Plum Inn, as part of their summer pop-up dinner series. Driving up, with the sun coming down and the roads clearing out, the mayhem of summertime on Martha’s Vineyard falls away and the pastoral beauty of the Island takes hold. As you approach the inn, you admire the meticulously manicured gardens, full of blooming hydrangeas illuminated by weathered glass lanterns, and linger on the perfect balance of ocean and countryside wafting through the evening air. The venue oozes romance and rustic Island charm — the perfect place for an authentic Vineyard dining experience.
The Beach Plum has been serving twice-weekly pop-up dinners this season, reservation-only events that can accommodate up to 75 people. This departure from nightly dinner service enables resident Chef John Thurgood to showcase the talents and resources of other Island chefs and food purveyors, while using the freshest Island resources available when they are at their peak. “When you have a busy dinner service where you do a few hundred people, you are not always able to use the best Island products because of limited quantity. This series has been based on showcasing the amazing variety of Island products.”
On a recent Wednesday night, Chef Gavin Smith of Food Minded Fellow shared the Beach Plum kitchen with Chef Thurgood. As a private chef, Mr. Smith is typically cooking in private homes, in his client’s kitchens. He collaborated with Mr. Thurgood as a way to bring his food to a new audience and cook in a beloved place, alongside a chef he admires. “John is so thoughtful with his food and the sustainability of the ingredients that go into it. It’s so nice to work with someone who thinks about food as creatively as I do. We sat down to build the menu months ago, but left room to use the freshest ingredients.” The two wanted to highlight the best of the Vineyard’s summer bounty, and refined the menu the same day, based on the availability of the freshest ingredients.
Those carefully selected ingredients were evident in the first course, a watermelon gazpacho, light but flavorful, a brilliant summer red in color. The gazpacho, a puréed cold soup of watermelon, cucumbers, Morning Glory heirloom tomatoes, lemon basil, lime, and red wine vinegar, was topped with fresh tarragon, black bass ceviche, and a drizzle of grapefruit oil for an extra boost of summery, citrusy flavor.
The second course highlighted one of the property’s own resources, and a simple, often overlooked ingredient — the egg. A coddled Beach Plum egg (in this case lightly poached) was served on a bed of fresh, lightly dressed purslane. Purslane is likely in your garden right now, and you’ve weeded it. It’s the sprouts that come up from the sidewalk, but it’s also a superfood, known to be high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and beta carotene, and it’s becoming a staple at farmers’ markets and the kitchens of foraging chefs like Mr. Thurgood. Other distinct ingredients included pickled komatsuna, or Japanese mustard spinach, and another variation of the Beach Plum egg — the shavings of a three-week-cured yolk — that provided a perfectly salty bite.
Next came a shellfish stew, a hearty combination of Island seafood and produce. Steamed and smoked mussels, squid, and littleneck clams from Menemsha Fish House sat atop a stew of Morning Glory tomatoes, sautéed fennel, green coriander seeds, and micro broccoli (the young seedlings of broccoli), which had been cooked in a lobster and seafood broth. While the ingredients may sound hearty, the portions were conservative but substantial, and allowed you to appreciate the complexity of flavors in every course.
The fourth course was perhaps the most notable — braised lamb served over a seasonal succotash. The lamb was juicy, tender, and ever so salty, having been braised in stock and duck fat. The salad included blanched fava beans, green beans, turnips, black-eyed peas and MV Mycological shiitake mushrooms — possibly the meatiest, most flavorful produce available on the Island (if you haven’t had them, you really must). The lamb was topped with pea tendrils and lemon zest for a welcome addition of raw texture and citrus flavor.
And of course, no meal is complete without dessert. The last course consisted of a miniature panna cotta that Chef Smith thoughtfully prepared in ice cube trays to achieve the perfect size. With a soft, marshmallow-like texture, it was both uniquely sized and uniquely sweet, thanks to the addition of Martha’s Vineyard Honey. It was finished with a strawberry, raspberry, and blackberry compote and a sprinkling of Mermaid Farm barley cookie crumble for texture.
“We hope we introduced people to some new ingredients and new flavor combinations they wouldn’t typically expect. We are so lucky to have access to these amazing resources, and I can’t imagine a more beautiful place for people to be able to enjoy them,” said Chef Smith.
Upcoming pop-up dinners at Beach Plum include a Chilmark wild dinner, showcasing a full meal of Chilmark-sourced foods on Sunday, August 20, and an Island fish dinner: four courses of local fish and shellfish on Wednesday, August 30. All dinners start at 6 pm, are BYOB and $80 per person, plus tax, corkage fee, and gratuity. Reservations can be made by emailing email@example.com. For additional information, visit beachpluminn.com/popup-dinners.